On a cold February day, my son Luke and I set out to make an ax handle. In the process, we received an unexpected lesson. In a world with Home Depot and Amazon, we give little thought to buying the things we need. The things we need are always at our fingertips, or at most a short drive or two days shipping away. However, there are still a few things out there that you can’t get by just clicking a button and a handle for an old ax is one of them. So we took a page out of our ancestors book, and when we needed something we made it from what was available. The ax was special to us, as it had belonged to an older gentleman that had lived near us. When he would walk by our house he would sometimes stop and talk and we always listened. One time while we were splitting wood he stopped and told us all about how he used to split wood just like we were doing. As sad as we were about his passing, we happily purchased the ax at his estate sale along with a few other of his prized items. The ax was small with a short handle. It split well, and was easy to carry along in the woods. The day it broke, we were crushed, so on this cold February day, we set out to make something truly homemade. In the garage, we found a scrap piece of black walnut that was the right size. We began by tracing the shape of the old handle onto the walnut. We also added a center line for reference. We clamped the wood in the vise, and went to work with our old draw knife, also acquired at an estate sale. It became apparent that this was not going to be a quick job, and as the work went on, I began to think of how much more careful our ancestors must have been with their tools. When an errant swing could cost you a half a day of work, I bet you focus a whole lot harder on your task. We also knew that the next time we used this ax we would have the same type of focus.
As the wood peeled off with each stroke of the draw knife, and the shavings piled up on the floor, the handle slowly took shape. We often paused to hold the handle, because how it felt in our hands was important, and how it felt became just as important as how it looked. We could imagine our ancestors doing the same, since this was a custom piece made to fit only our hands. It was now our tool, not some generic thing from Lowe’s.
The more we worked, the slower we went. We put so much time and effort into getting the handle to take shape that we wanted it to come out perfect. This was another lesson in craftsmanship that has been lost today. As we painstakingly carved the handle to fit the ax head, my son Luke came up with a great idea to put a spent casing from our rifle in the handle, now the ax would most certainly be one of a kind.
In the end, we hand-crafted a beautiful ax handle, that we will never forget making. We also found that we had a greater appreciation for our forefathers, and how hard they worked for simple things. It was nice to take a break from today’s world, escape the “screens” for a few hours, and do something that felt worthy of our effort.